The European Union Support to District Development Programme (EU-SDDP) is a Euro 60 million partnership between the European Union, the Sri Lankan government, UNICEF and other UN agencies to create greater access to social infrastructure and services for vulnerable communities in the districts of Ampara, Batticaloa, Mannar, Vavuniya and border villages in the districts of Puttalam, Anuradhapura and Monaragala.
What is the secret behind this apparently inexplicable phenomenon? The answer is simple: the teachers and parents of the Pubudu Pre-School in the Puttalam district, came together in a process of recreating the school to bring out the best in the students. What made this possible is the European Union Support to District Development Programme’s efforts to help vulnerable schools improve their learning environments and nurture strong school communities. UNICEF has established 54 model early childhood development (ECD) centers in seven districts through EU-SDDP support.
“UNICEF and its local partner the NGO OfERR, brought us this initiative. And the change began with us, the teachers,” says head teacher, Sewwandi Hemamali. “We first followed a three-day training programme for teachers. It was a creative workshop that also discussed child rights and child well-being. We then visited model pre-schools in the Nuwara Eliya district. There was much for us to learn there. I learnt, for example, how to make the classroom more attractive, how to display the creativity of children, how to inspire the students.”
Preceding these activities, was a planning exercise, with both teachers and parents, facilitated by OfERR. A full-day workshop for teachers and parents was held to develop a five-year plan for the school. The participants first identified the current situation, the existing challenges: Why are some children reluctant to come to school? What are the difficulties parents and teachers experience?
“We looked for answers together, “says Ms. Udeni, whose child is poised to leave the pre-school and enter primary school. “We identified the need for electricity, a kitchen, a school garden, fencing, a gate. And many of the walls were decaying. Even though some of these plans won’t be realized before my child leaves the school, I am happy that other children will benefit. This is a special school. I am a Tamil mother, my child is the only Tamil student in this school. The teacher even takes the trouble and time to teach me Sinhala letters.”
Both teachers and parents are jointly responsible for implementing the five-year plan. Certainly, the changes taking place in the pre-school are not just physical: “My son has become more sociable,” says Dharshika Fonseka, “ He has many friends now. He has begun to relate with other children.”
Nadeesha Perera observes that the school has become a more stimulating environment: “This is my third child coming to the pre-school, she is much more enthusiastic about school than my two older children were. She is also learning much faster than they did. Our teacher is forward thinking. She does so much for the children of our village and that in turn motivates us. We came second in a pre-school competition this year. Next year we want to come first.”
Pre-school teachers are key stakeholders in the EU-SDDP Health and Nutrition sector. Learning materials for improved awareness on infant and young child feeding practices have been shared with both teachers and parents. The school meals consistently meet good nutritional standards.